The American Revolution in South Carolina

Sawney's Creek

May 8, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Major General
Nathanael Greene
British Cdr:

Col. Francis, Lord Rawdon






Old District: 

Camden District
Present County:

Kershaw County

aka Sandy Creek.

On the night of May 7th, Col. Francis, Lord Rawdon crossed the Wateree Ferry and moved to attack what he thought was the main Patriot force at Sawney Creek, but which, as it turned out, was only the Light Infantry and cavalry pickets of the American army.

On May 8th, Major General Nathanael Greene moved his Patriot force to Sawney's Creek after finding out that a British force, commanded by Col. Francis, Lord Rawdon, had returned to Camden. In the morning, Lord Rawdon marched his force to Wateree Ferry. He followed Major General Greene to the lower side of Sawney's Creek, a rough area of pine and oak trees, where his advance troops met the pickets of Lt. Col. William Washington's dragoons. A short skirmish ensued, with the pickets being driven away. Both Major General Greene and Lord Rawdon withdrew their forces without any more engagements. Finding Major General Greene’s position too strong, Lord Rawdon withdrew back, once again, to Camden.

Lord Rawdon, in his letter of May 24th to Lord Cornwallis wrote:

“Whilst, upon that principle, I waited for my expected succours, Gen. Greene retired from our front, and, crossing the Wateree, took a position behind Twenty-five Mile Creek. On the 7th of May, Lieutenant-colonel Watson joined me with his detachment, much reduced in number through casualties, sickness, and a reinforcement which he had left to strengthen the garrison at George Town. He had crossed the Santee near its mouth, and had recrossed it a little below the entrance of the Congaree. On the night of the 7th, I crossed the Wateree at Camden ferry, proposing to turn the flank and attack the rear of Greene's army, where the ground was not strong, though it was very much so in front. The troops had scarcely crossed the river, when I received notice that Greene had moved early in the evening, upon getting information of my being reinforced, I followed him by the direct road, and found him posted behind Sawney's creek. Having driven in his pickets, I examined every point of his situation; I found it every where so strong, that I could not hope to force it without suffering such loss as must have crippled my force for any future enterprise; and the retreat lay so open for him, I could not hope that victory would give us any advantage sufficiently decisive to counterbalance the loss. The creek (though slightly marked in the maps) runs very high into the country. Had I attempted to get round him, he would have evaded me with ease; for, as his numbers still exceeded mine, I could not separate my force to fix him in any point, and time (at this juncture most important to me) would have been thus unprofitably wasted. I therefore returned to Camden the same afternoon, after having in vain attempted to decoy the enemy into action, by affecting to conceal our retreat.”

After withdrawing from the skirmish at Sawney's Creek, Lord Rawdon decided it was time to abandon Camden, and he destroyed what he could. He released all prisoners, burned the jail, local mills, and many private dwellings. He then set fire to all supplies he could not take with him, leaving the town in a heap of ruins. He collected the sick, except for those two ill to travel, and set his army down the road to Charlestown. By May 10th, the British were now out of Camden, and the next day, Major General Nathanael Greene moved in.

Lord Rawdon left thirty-one (31) wounded Patriot soliders behind. He also left fifty-eight (58) of his own men, including three officers, who were too badly wounded to travel. The Loyalists feared reprisals so they joined Lord Rawdon on his march to Charlestown. Upon arriving at their destination, these Loyalists built a village of crude huts outside the city walls and named it "Rawdontown." These Loyalists would live here despised by the Patriots and ignored by the British for another year and a half.

The followin comes from the pension statement of Col. Guilford Dudley of Halifax County, NC - prepared in October of 1832 [with minor edits]:

"This, and some other transaction which took place in our camp above Rugeley's being finished, and Genl. Sumter not yet joining as was expected when we first sat down before Camden on the 19th, Genl Greene became restless for want of employment, and from his too remote position from the garrison in Camden. He therefore determined to change his position once more, from the eastern to the western side of the Wateree; and accordingly, on the 28th, broke up from that camp, and passing down by Rugeley's a mile or two, filed off from the Camden road to the right, & soon reached the Wateree, at a very rocky ford, about nine miles above that town; four or five hundred yards wide; which we forded, Horse, foot & artillery, as we had done before at Colson's on Big Pedee; and, keeping out from the river a mile or two until we entered the main road leading down from Rocky Mount, &c, to the ferry below Camden, pitched our tents opposite to that village, in an open plain covered with pine, about two miles from us, and with the river interposed.

"This movement was made for the double purpose of more effectually cutting off the supplies coming down on that side or from Ninety-Six, if that should be attempted, as well as to intercept Col Watson on his return to the garrison, should he evade Marion & Lee on Santee, and, then, crossing Congaree at Fort Motte, or elsewhere, force his way to Camden on the upper road, on the west side of the Wateree. Watson, however, at last evaded Marion & Lee and made good his passage to Camden on the eastern side of the Wateree, altogether unexpectedly.

"It was not long, however, before Genl Greene got intelligence of this circumstance, and therefore was upon the lookout for a visit from Lord Rawdon, with his increased force; which we were not exactly in a situation to resist with our mortified troops, whose spirits were yet rather depressed by their late repulse before Camden. General Greene, knowing his adversary would strike at him, as soon as Watson reached Camden, hastily broke up from this Camp, about an hour by sun in the evening of the 6th or 7th of May; and, falling back, by a rapid march, gained the heights of Sawney's Creek, the strongest position I ever saw anywhere in South Carolina, or, perhaps anywhere else; and sat down on its summit; a stupendous hill, faced with rock, having a difficult pass of steep ascent to climb up; his artillery posted in the road, on the eminence, where the gap was somewhat lower than the hill on either side.

"In the morning of the 7th or 8th, before day, Rawdon put his army in motion, and, crossing the ferry below town, was at the dawn of day in General Greene's deserted camp, greatly disappointed by not finding his intended victim there; but, still determined upon his destruction, followed him up to the lower side of Sawney's Creek, covered with lofty timber, both of pine and oak; and where his advanced troops met our strong pickets and Col Washington's Cavalry (always their terror) judiciously posted. Instantly a handsome firing took place—Lord Rawdon paused, examined with caution the ground his adversary occupied; -- Washington keeping himself raised up in his stirrups, watching the exact moment when to strike with the saber; his quondam friend Major Coffin, with
the British cavalry in view.

"In the meantime, on the upper side of the creek, all was in motion; General Greene in person, and the adjutant general, forming our troops on the heights in battle array; my battalion ordered down the hill to cross a narrow, lengthy field in the bottom, not in cultivation that spring, and to post myself in, and around sundry deserted houses
near the ford of Sawney's Creek, under the supposition that the enemy would force a passage; and there to maintain my post as long as I could. This order I received from the general himself, on the brow of the hill. But scarcely had I reached the houses before I was recalled.

"At this moment the General had received information of another crossing place about two miles lower down the creek, quite convenient for the enemy's purpose of getting at him, and attacking him in the rear of his present position on the lofty summits of the hill. This intelligence instantly changed the mind of the general and produced the determination to retrograde again, and once more fall back 3 or 4 miles to a large creek of still, deep water (Colonel's Creek, I believe, it was called), having over it a framed bridge covered with plank.

"Lord Rawdon, not liking to risk an attack upon his adversary in his strong position on the heights, thought it best to retire into Camden, at the same moment Greene was retrograding, and prepare for its evacuation. On the upper side of this bridge I posted my battalion, having in charge the baggage of the army, our herds of cattle, swine, &c, whilst the General with his suite halted about a mile below, and took up his headquarters in a comfortable dwelling house on the margin of the road. Here (at the bridge), I remained until the evening of the 10th, when the General rode up to visit my quarters, and did me the honor to invite me to breakfast the next morning at headquarters;
an occurrence, or to dine with him in rotation with other officers, not infrequently happened.

"This invitation it may be easily imagined I readily accepted, and accordingly in the morn of the 11th, at the proper hour, waited on him, when the General, who seemed to have been expecting me, came to the front door of his apartment, & saw me close at hand and ready to dismount at the gate in the upper corner of the yard. At the first glance I thought I perceived in the General's countenance an expression of something of a pleasing and interesting nature, and so there was.

"With his accustomed politeness he stepped out of the door; his fine manly face wearing the smile of complacency and benevolence so natural to him, and met me at the yard gate, where, hardly taking time to present his hand, his invariable practice whenever an officer visited him, with apparent eagerness asked me if I had heard the news. Struck by the manner of his asking the question, I hastily replied, "No, Sir, what news?" "Rawdon evacuated Camden yesterday afternoon," (and added in a facetious way,) "has left Capt. Jack Smith* [*Capt. Jack Smith had been made a prisoner on the 25th April, on Hobkirk's Hill, and carried into Camden that night, & threatened with death, under the law of retaliation, for the alleged murder of Lt. Col. Stewart of the British guards at the battle of Guilford (utterly false) but Greene interposed by a flag & prevented it.] commandant of the place, in the care of his sick and wounded, as well as ours, and pushed towards Nelson's Ferry on the Santee."

"This pleasing intelligence the General had but just received himself, no patrols of our cavalry having been on that side of the river for several days, nor down about the ferry the evening before, nor that morning, where they must have seen the conflagration of houses, etc., which Lord Rawdon, in his clemency, thought proper to destroy by fire.

"Things being in the situation in our camp at Colonel's Creek before described, and Rawdon returning to Santee with great celerity as if afraid of being overtaken by General Greene, the latter ordered his army to be put in motion and directing me, while at headquarters, to bring down my battalion and the baggage. We broke up from that place and continued our march down the river a couple of miles below the ferry on the west side of Wateree and halted on the upper road leading from Camden to Friday's Ferry on Congaree, where I was, with my battalion, "discharged from the Southern army, by order of Major Genl Greene," as may be seen by my written discharge signed by O. H. Williams, Adjutant General, now in file with other original papers of mine and left in the
hands of the chairman of the Committee on Pensions, in the Senate of the United States."

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